Before I saw the trailer for Insomniac Games’ smaller title “Song of the Deep”, I was a bit skeptical. This was to be the first game published by Gamestop (an interesting move), and I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular for something that sounded to me more like a test project than anything else. I was pleasantly surprised when the video was released, however, and was immediately anticipating the release. Now that I’ve finished the game, I’m happy to say that, despite some very minor issues, it even surpassed my expectations. Its ability to offer a fresh experience while also feeling familiar at the same time is very welcome, and I’m hoping to see more smaller, quality titles from Insomniac in the future.
You play as Merryn, a young girl whose father is a fisherman. One morning, he doesn’t come home from a night on the sea. Merryn has a dream about her father being trapped at sea and decides to build a small submarine to set out to find him. She begins her search, finds upgrades to her craft, and uses her determination and resolve to keep from giving up in her pursuit of rescuing her father.
The gameplay can be summed up on one word of which many people are uncomfortable: “Metroidvania”. I’m not one of those people, but for those not familiar with the term, I’ll elaborate. “Song of the Deep” is a 2-D side-scroller in which you control Merryn’s submarine. Not all of the areas are immediately accessible and will require you to discover various upgrades to be able to backtrack to new areas. There are a few things that set this apart from the traditional games in this genre. One is the lack of being tied down to gravity. Merryn’s sub can travel in all eight directions, which gives the illusion of complete freedom of movement. Another difference is the way combat is approached. In my experience, I’m used to relying on some kind of shooting mechanic to thwart off enemies. While you eventually do get some missiles in your arsenal, your primary weapon is in the form of a grappling hook with also doubles as your tool for uncovering secrets and solving puzzles. These new mechanics make a familiar genre seem fresh and offer the perfect amount of challenge without feeling overly frustrating.
The exploration in “Song of the Deep” is somewhat of a blessing and a curse. When you first start the game, you see all kinds of treasures everywhere, and your natural inclination is to want to collect them right away. Due to the nature of this game, it’s obviously not possible to do so. Sure, you can backtrack after acquiring upgrades, but I found myself either forgetting about them or just not feeling like scouring the map after gaining those abilities. I feel like completionists would be better served to wait until the very end of the game to clean up the map, rather than trying to determine if that barely visible treasure is worth going after during the regular playthrough. I fully admit, however, that this may be a personality fault rather than one that is solely on the shoulders of the developers. And this is truly my only complaint of an otherwise terrific experience.
Don’t let my personal quirks deter you from playing what has turned out to be one of the better experiences I’ve played this year. The environments are genuinely gorgeous with some great lighting effects that really give the depths of the ocean a truly eerie vibe. There’s also a narrator present that reminds me very much of my experience playing “Bastion” that gives a touch of warmth to the story that is very much appreciated. At $14.99, you can’t beat the price either. If you’re a fan of this genre, “Song of the Deep” is a no-brainer.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, but it is also available on Xbox One and PC (Steam).